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Hard times can produce good

There’s an old saying: “A rising tide raises all ships.” Unfortunately, there is a parallel reality: All ships are just as susceptible to a falling tide. In these months of economic downturn, no organization is exempt from the effects of dwindling finances. That includes Assemblies of God World Missions, an organization that has been wonderfully blessed by God throughout its history. But AGWM stands apart from other institutions in this very real sense — although our missionaries and ministry projects use finances as a tool, we do not put our faith in finances. Our trust remains directed toward the Lord of the Harvest.

Some 20 years ago, when Lois and I were serving as mission-aries to El Salvador, our ministry partners arrived with us at a financial crossroads. Our children’s program, Latin America ChildCare, faced a sudden monthly shortfall of $200,000. We had to decide what to do with our member schools. In the natural, we had no way to keep the schools operating. But I felt impressed of God to share with our staff three supernatural truths. These truths, I believe, are just as applicable to our worldwide missions in these months of recession.

1. If a ministry is valid, God will support it. He will provide the funds. When I survey the growing churches and Bible schools and rehabilitation centers and orphanages where our missionaries are partnering with local believers to further the Great Commission, I am repeatedly confronted with valid ministry. I believe God will provide needed funds in these trying times.

2. When God provides funds, He expects us to demonstrate good stewardship. A ministry may be valid, but if we are poor stewards God removes His hand of blessing. I am convinced Assemblies of God missionaries are some of the best stewards of God-given resources in the church today. I do not say that out of pride, but out of a continuing sense of responsibility. At the same time, I know that at every level of World Missions administration we are seeking to identify ways to stretch every dollar in every gift to make the greatest possible use of it.

3. I shared a final point with my LACC team all those years ago: When a ministry is valid, and when God provides the funds, God will get all the glory for the resulting blessing. LACC schools not only survived those meager months, but also continued to grow. And, to God’s glory, an entire generation of Latin American children grew up with the benefits of a Christian educa-tion, nutritious meals, and medical and dental care. Many of those students are men and women of integrity and influence today. Their lives are bringing God glory.

As I inject these three truths into AGWM’s financial picture today, I see several applications come to light. In regard to our stewardship of the funds people continue to give sacrificially, the Lord is speaking to our hearts as a com-mittee that we have to find new ways to stretch the money God sends our way. Where possible, we are cutting back on travel, limiting regional meetings and reducing special projects. In place of those expenses, we are prioritizing the needs of our missionaries as they come to grips with more limited giving from among their support base. We are using our Senders Fund not only to get new missionaries to the field more quickly, but to keep missionaries on the field when they encounter a short-fall in funds.

I believe with all my heart God is also asking every church at this hour to be good stewards of the money He sends their way. When churches respond in obedience, I believe this will maximize the dollars sent to missions. Why? Because the Great Commission never moves from its primary position in the heart of God. Churches sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit will put limited funds where the highest priority is.

Perhaps it sounds counterintuitive, but I am convinced there are good things that come from an economic downturn. Hard times remind us we are dependent on God for all the resources for His work. Hard times increase our sense of responsibility to God in the way we use that money and the way we spend that money. Difficult circumstances often bring to light issues we would not address in times of abundance and prosperity.

Whenever I visit a church and see the priority they place on missions, I’m grateful. Every missions display in a lobby, every mention of a missionary’s prayer need in a church bulletin, every service dedicated to a particular mission field — all of these demonstrations of support work together to create the life and soul of a successful missions program. Our AGWM leadership is praying that local churches will also take on this new sense of priority even as families across our Fellowship confront the challenges of these times.

To someone attending a church that supports missionaries strongly, I would encourage you to stretch your faith. Make a faith promise, partner with your church in its vision to reach the lost around the world, and watch expectantly for God to honor that faith and meet not only a missionary’s need but your own as well. To someone attending a church with a very limited missions program or no program at all, I would encourage you to take a new step of faith. Support AGWM’s Senders Fund and become a partner in sending new missionaries to the field and keeping veteran missionaries on the field.

Those years ago in El Salvador, Lois and I watched as the lordship of Christ gripped the hearts of our ministry team and the many people who stepped in to support us sacrificially. We had to remind ourselves then we were answerable ultimately to the righteous Judge who weighed the value of every precious child’s soul in our schools. As servants of God today, even in these challenging times, each of us answers for the souls of the lost around the world that our Lord has entrusted into our care.

You and I are at a financial crossroads today. This is about the eternal destiny of souls, and God’s heart is grieved when we use funds that could be effective in the winning of the lost for things that may be of some value but not the greatest value in reaching our world. And I have been convicted in recent months about that in my own life. I want to use my energy and my resources to maximize what is of highest priority to the heart of Jesus Christ. I want to be able to live up to that principle because I know I will answer to Him when all is said and done.

L. JOHN BUENO is executive director of AG World Missions.

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